Learning to Trad

I spent the past two weekends in along the Tieton River learning to not only climb crack, but place traditional protection.  My hard work of spending countless hours in the climbing gym paid off by allowing me to focus on crack climbing and placing protection.

We started the first weekend by performing “mock leads” where we are protected by a top rope and trail a rope tied into our harness while we place protection and “clip” the rope into that protection. An experienced instructor would then rappel down with us, inspect our gear, and give us feedback on our placement. Within the first two mock leads I started to dial in cam placement, sizing, and pockets/flaring to secure my cam from walking. I was surprised by how much cams walk while extended! I ensured that while I was on mock lead I acted like I was truly on my own gear without a top rope which helped with the mental factor

What I found hardest wasn’t the mental block of being on gear that I placed myself, leading, or even the technique, but selecting good placements and managing my gear budget. I found my placement becoming more poor when I felt I did not have the right size of protection, or started to rush gear placement to continue on the route to the point my Camalot #3 become stuck. (I later retrieved it).

I passed my evaluation by leading 3 routes on gear during the second weekend with near flawless placement.



I’m excited to continue to improve upon my climbing and trad skills, with trips planned to Leavenworth, Squamish, and Smith rock in the coming weeks along with learning both sport and alpine multipitch.

Self Rescue 1 – Practice

This week I attended my first self rescue practice session to learn how to rescue a follower in vertical terrain. We covered escaping the belay, counter balance and tandem rappels, knot passing, and raising systems. While I’ve covered these skills individually, it was fascinating to learn how to use them in conjunction with each other while still maintaining proper and clean rope systems. This is a last-ditch effort if you need to bail off the mountain NOW with an injured partner. The main principle for this series of events is as follows.

Escaping the Belay 

  1. Go hands free while belaying from above. This allows you to use both hands without worry of dropping your injured follower.
  2. Create a friction hitch with a load-releasable hitch attached to the climbers strand below the belay device.
  3. Setup a load-releasable hitch behind the belay device to lower the climber after you remove your belay device.
  4. Remove the belay device.
  5. Release the original load-releasable hitch on the climbers strand to weight the load-releasable hitch that was behind the belay device.
  6. Your climber is now being belayed by the second load-releasable hitch and you escaped the belay.


Counter Balance Rappel

Ideally you would leave insert this after step 4 in “escaping the belay” as it makes for an easier transition.

  1.  Use a bailout carabiner between the two load-releasable friction hitches as your rappel anchor.
  2. Set up your extended rappel behind the second load-releasable friction hitch along with an autoblock backup.
  3. Remove the second load-releasable friction hitch as your rappel device now acts as an anchor.
  4. Release the first load-releasable friction hitch placing the complete weight of the climber onto the second load-releasable friction hitch.
  5.  Attach the friction hitch of the first load-releasable hitch to your belay loop as a backup.
  6. Test your rappel strand.
  7. Remove your clove hitch and rappel to the victim.


Tandem Rappel

This is where things get even more complicated! You need to now transition to another anchor and set up for a full length rappel with an unconscious or injured victim. Once you reach your partner and tend first aid, you will rappel using the same techniques to the second anchor.

  1. When you reach the next rappel station, untie the rope going to your harness to the victim. You are backed up via the rappel device.
  2. Thread the loose end through the rappel ring of the new rappel station and tie it into the victim.
  3. Create a load-releasable hitch onto your belay loop.
  4. Clean the system once you are sure the system is secure.
  5. Untie the original strand from the victim and pull the remaining rope through the old rappel anchors. Before that strand is out of reach, pull a bit of rope through the rappel ring to set up your next rappel.
  6. Pull rope through the rappel ring until you have reached the mid-point of the rope.
  7. Set up an extended rappel with an autoblock on the two new strands off the rappel anchor.
  8. Set up an extended rappel on your victim, clipping their carabiner through the rappel device to increase friction.
  9. Test the rappel device and remove the load-releasable hitch from your harness, untie the strand from your victim, tie a knot at the end of the strand and rappel.


This was a great training opportunity to improve my climbing skills and add more tools to the toolbox to allow me to become a more self-sufficient climber. Our next and final practical session of the class will be putting these skills to use in the vertical world!



Special Note: Climbing is dangerous! This is one way that I learned the skills today. Please do not use this as a guide as I am a student learning these skills.  If you want to learn more about self rescue, take a course or check out Self-Rescue by David Fasulo.



I decided to start this blog to categorize and archive my thoughts and journey as I venture out into the mountains.  My journey started last year after joining King County Search and Rescue with no hiking experience except for a few day hikes, no mountaineering experience, and no backpacking experience. Armed with the gear, I went on hikes, hikes lead to microspikes, microspikes led to snowshoes, snowshoes lead to crampons, and crampons led to Mt Rainier, Mt Adams, Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt St Helens, Eldorado Peak, and so much more.  While last year was incredible and I began my climbing “career”, this year I started my Intermediate Climbing Program with the Mountaineers, which is a great organization, where I’ll learn advanced glacier techniques, self rescue, traditional “trad” climbing, and ice climbing. I’m excited to learn what this year brings and where I’ll go from here. Until then!